Sacred Texts  Native American  Iroquois 

Seneca Indian Myths

by Jeremiah Curtin


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The Seneca are one of the members of the powerful Iroquois tribe, and live in the western part of New York State, along the shores of Lake Ontario to the west of the Finger Lake region. This huge (500 page) book of Seneca myths was collected by Jeremiah Curtin at the turn of the 20th century. Curtin also wrote Creation Myths of Primitive America, Myths and Folk-lore of Ireland, and Tales of the Fairies and of the Ghost World, all also at this site.

The tales in this book are consistent in themes and style with Native American storytelling from diverse regions. Themes such as shape-shifting culture heroes, gambling for keeps, and journeys beyond the sky are reminiscent of many other tales from diverse parts of the continent. The tales are mostly set in a pre-human dreamtime, and the players are the conventional zoomorphic first people. There are a few legends set in more recent times, particularly regarding conflict of the Iroquois with the neighboring Cherokee.

There are many distinctive Iroquois touches, for instance, the importance of the uncle as opposed to the father, and the strong and self-motivated women characters; this is an outgrowth of matrilineal descent. Also of note are the hideous man-eaters, used as figures of horror here. (This should not be taken as an indication that cannibals were once prevalent, no more than Grimms' tales indicate the use of gingerbread as a construction material in medieval northern Europe.) These tales are very entertaining and present insights into Iroquois psychology. There is no evidence of European contact, as is sometimes seen in other collections, whether this was the result of editing by Curtin is unknown. The repeated use of similar themes is never tedious, but shows how various storytellers built on the same foundation.

John Bruno Hare, July 8th, 2004.

Title Page
Summer Conquers Winter
Skagédi And The Man-Eater
Géha Aids A Deserted Boy
The Adventures of Wolf-Marked
Okteondon and His Uncle, The Planter, or, Winter Delaying Spring
A Battle Between Frost and Whirlwind
Hótho Conquers Shagodyoweg Gowa
Summer Kills Autumn and is Herself Killed by Winter
Géha, The Friend of a Deserted Boy
Whirlwind and Panther
A Bird in Search of a Mate
The Origin of Stories
The Man-Eating Wife, the Little Old Woman and the Morning Star
Two Young Men Who Went to ''The Blue'', Speaker and Definer
The Trials and Death of Inchworm
The Thunder Boy
Grandfather and Grandson and an Eagle Woman
The Great Spirit Overpowers the Cold and Frost of Winter, Stone Coats
Man-Eater and his Brother Whirlwind
Owl and his Jealous Wife
Okteondon And His Uncle
Tree Worm and his Mother-In-Law, Barkworm
Cold and Frost, or Stone Coat Women
The Ganyo Gowa
Wolf and the Old Woman's Grandson
A Race Between Bear and Turtle
The Grandmother and Grandson
Bald Eagle Sends Mud-Turtle to the Edge of the World
The Boy Who Learned the Songs of Birds
The Coming of Spring or The Wadyonyondyes Girls
The Creation of Men (Indians)
The Buffalo Women
The Ghost Woman
Wíshakon and his Friend Visit the Pléthoak (Thunders)
The Adventures Of Haníshéonon
Stone Coat, Cold and Frost
Rain Old Man and the Horned Snake (Lightning)
Whirlwind and her Husband
The Bird Medicine
Hagowane and his Ten Sons
Coon Deceives Crawfish
The Deserted Boy
Dagwanoenyent (Whirlwind)
Hótho (Cold)
Flying-Squirrel and the Seasons
The Adventures of Yellowbird
The Young Woman and Thunder
Partridge and Turtle and their Cousins Wolves
Thousand-Legs and Bright Body his Son
A Young Man Rescued by a Toad
A Man Pursued by his Uncle and by his Wife
A Lazy Man
Swan's Daughters Marry Earthquake's Son
Hodadeion and his Sister
A Little Boy and his Dog, Beautiful Ears
Quail Kills Cold Weather and the Thunder Family
Gáqga´ and Skagédi
The Man-Eater and his Younger Brother
The Rabbit Brothers
Mink and his Uncle
The Fox and Rabbit
A Warrior Cared for by Wolves
Dogs Save Their Master
The Deserted Village
War Between Senecas and Cherokees
Turtle on the War-Path
The Great Snake Battle
The Hunter Who Became A Fish
Two Seneca Women Escape From Cherokee Captivity
A Dead Man Speaks Through Fire
The Feast of the Whirlwinds
Thunder Destroys Horned Snake
The Friendship of an Otter
How Chipmunks Got Their Stripes
Child Fed and Cared for by a Porcupine and a Bear
A Brother and Sister Pursued by a Man-Eater
A Racoon Story
The Moose Woman
The Adventures Of Gányage Gowa
Turkey's Brother goes in Search of a Wife
The Twelve Brothers and Their Uncle, Dagwanoenyent
Uncle and Nephew
A Man Chased by the Ancient of Lizards
The Great Bear and the Six Hunters, or, The Seven Stars of the Dipper
The Chipmunk and the Bear
The Wren
The Twelve Stars
The Woman and Dog in the Moon
A Man Conquers Stone Coat (Ice and Cold)